Legion Baseball Playoffs: Johnson’s pitching gives Rowan 2-0 series lead
CONCORD — Baseball is a game of opportunity and Rowan’s Legion team took full advantage of every one of them Friday night against Concord.
Some second inning wildness by Post 51 enabled Rowan to break on top 5-0, then lefty Connor Johnson made sure it was more than enough, enroute to a 9-2 win.
Rowan (19-7) now holds a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of five first round series with the possible clincher scheduled for tonight at Newman Park. It was also its 10th straight win this season.
The two teams played through a steady rain in the middle innings at the Central Cabarrus High School field and by the time the rainbow appeared over the center field fence in the seventh inning, the outcome was all but settled.
Johnson improved to 4-0 with eight solid innings, allowing one run on eight hits and fanning four. Most impressively, he did not walk a batter despite the damp conditions.
“The mound got real slippery but I did not let it affect me,” Johnson said. “I just kept on throwing. Towards the end, I got a little bit tired but I just pitched the best I could.”
Concord (8-15) finally got to Johnson in the sixth when Garrett Hurlocker homered to deep right but that was the end of the threat.
Brandon White came on to pitch the ninth for Rowan and allowed a run but closed it out.
“I thought we did a good job overall,” Rowan coach Jim Gantt said afterward. “Connor was pretty much in command the whole way.”
Gantt was also pleased with three double plays by his defense, plus a wake-up call in the third in the form of a two-run homer to right by Taylor Garczynski that made the score 7-0.
“Taylor’s home run kind of pumped everybody up. They were hooting and hollering in the dugout,” Gantt said.
No one was more pumped than Garczynski, who has struggled at the plate all summer with a .159 batting average despite hitting the ball on the nose most times.
It was his first dinger since last March in high school at West Rowan.
“I have been feeling more confident at the plate lately,” Garczynski said. “He threw me a slider down on a full count and I just threw the barrel down to it.”
Other hitting heroes for Rowan were Brian Bauk and Chance Bowden with two hits each while Bowden, Hunter Brooks along with Garczynski had two RBI each. Catcher Nathan Fulbright got plunked by a pitch twice, the fourth of the series and scored a pair of runs as a result.
The defining moment in the game came in the top of the second when Rowan sent 11 batters to the plate against starter Garrett Freeze. After a dominate first inning, Freeze suddenly lost the strike zone as he walked four, three with the bases loaded.
Ashton Fleming plated a run with a single and Brooks hit the first of two sacrifice flies to make it 5-0 for the visitors.
Rowan added their final two runs in the fourth on a Bauk double and a Bowden single, plus another Brooks sac fly. They managed just four hits the rest of the way, against relievers Justin Greene and Blaine Hooks and they hit or ran themselves into three double plays.
“Again, walks killed us tonight just like last night,” Concord coach Tommy Smalls lamented about the 0-2 deficit in the series. “It is what it is but it is not like we haven’t been in both games. We just have to figure out how to put all nine innings together.”
Rowan plans to keep it business as usual as they go for the sweep tonight at Newman Park.
“We will approach the game the same way as always and use our guys as we need them,” Gantt said.